Johnson chastises, lauds lax case actors

KC Johnson, a man students might otherwise only know through the Internet, appeared in person on Duke's campus Tuesday night.

Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College and author of the "Durham-in-Wonderland" blog, spoke to students, faculty, administrators and Durham residents yesterday about procedural violations in the Duke lacrosse case.

The event-co-sponsored by Duke Students for an Ethical Duke and the Program on Values and Ethics in the Marketplace-attracted an audience that filled approximately one-third of Page Auditorium.

Johnson's well-read blog criticizes members of the Duke administration and faculty and the Durham Police Department for their conduct during the case.

"This case revealed a fundamental and deep-seated failure in the criminal justice system well beyond [former district attorney Mike] Nifong," Johnson said. He added that the misconduct of key members of the justice system dictated the case's direction even before Nifong took control.

Johnson praised the players' defense attorneys for their work in the case, which was followed by an applause from the audience. Defense attorneys Brad Bannon, Butch Williams and Bill Thomas were present at the event.

Reading excerpts from an advertisement signed by 88 Duke professors, Johnson said the ad clearly placed guilt on the lacrosse players and criticized those faculty members.

The ad was drafted March 26, 2006, and ran in The Chronicle April 6, 2006, a period during which two of the highest profile protests against the lacrosse team took place, he said. He noted that because of its timing, the ad served as a "thank you" or a form of endorsement for the protests.

"Those protestors might have deserved many things," he said. "A public thank you from the 88 professors was not one of them."

Furthermore, the ad was nearly unprecedented in academic institutions as faculty members rarely come together to make a political statement, Johnson said.

He added that the incident demonstrates a "groupthink" behavior in those academic departments at the University, which are thus not "pedagogically balanced."

President Richard Brodhead showed an early lack of support for the lacrosse team as a result of the pressure he received from the ad signatories, Johnson said.

"[Brodhead] recognized as a college president that forcefully confronting these faculty would be very hazardous to his professional health," he added.

Johnson said, however, there was a lot of support for the lacrosse team from student groups-like Duke Students for an Ethical Durham and Duke Student Government-as well as from other faculty members, particularly law professor James Coleman.

In response to a question from an audience member about the proposed $30-million settlement between the lacrosse players and the city of Durham, Johnson said he was not surprised by the price of the settlement. He added that he believes there is a strong case for it, and he said he hopes it will yield significant reform in the city's justice system.

Senior Kenny Larrey, who organized the event, said he thought the turnout was good but added that many of his fliers advertising the event had been taken down yesterday.

The speech was preceded by a book sale and signing of Johnson and journalist Stuart Taylor's "Until Proven Innocent"-a book about the incident released this month.

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